They broke the police barrier tape on the door and entered the building. The scene of the crime was on the third floor. Silently they took the stairs.
Walking behind her, Kiel watched the way the woman’s backside swayed when she walked. It would have been nice if there had been a bit more definition to that bottom, but her choice of attire did a better than average job of keeping her concealed. That dress shielded her femininity like a damn burqua.
He saw her smile. "I’m soaking it all up like a sponge, Detective. Give me a bit longer to sort out the details." Kiel glanced up at Sam, who shot him back one of those be careful looks he saw too frequently these days.
They continued climbing until they reached the third landing. Kiel followed along behind them instead of going on ahead as he normally would. Whenever he and Sam were on a case, just the two of them, he could be a bit freer with his newfound abilities. This having to play it totally on the level was leaving an irksome taste in his mouth that he was surprised to discover he didn’t like. The woman was blind, for goodness sake!
Yeah, but she was also as sharp as a finely honed blade. Blindness, in this case, wasn’t her weakness. If he tried any one of his stunts, as Sam sometimes called them, Kiel knew the woman would call him out on them.
Pausing outside of apartment number three-sixteen, Sam gave him a nod to go ahead. Sounding a quick sigh, Kiel tore off the tape barring them from entering, then gave the handle a little jiggle to make it sound like he was using a key to open the door. Then quickly he went in, over to the other side, and opened the door from the inside. J wore a little smile but said nothing, and for a second he wondered if the woman was aware of the little trick he’d pulled. Mentally shrugging, Kiel decided not to say anything unless she brought it up first. They were here to investigate a triple homicide, not discuss the attributes of a man who had died two months ago.
Sam clicked on his flashlight and quickly scanned the empty room. Both men watched as the woman stepped over the threshold, then paused. She dropped her hand from Sam’s arm to wrap both of her arms about her chest. Kiel realized the woman was cold. Or at least shivering from something like the cold. The impulse to put his own arms around her to stave off the chill was like an ache he couldn’t ignore, but he could fight it. Maybe because of her disability, J Laurent exuded defenselessness. But she also possessed a sense of calm strength he found intriguing.
Silently the detectives watched and waited for the Seer to make a statement, allowing her to either prove or disprove their half-formed opinions about her. J took two steps into the room and stopped. She turned in full circle as she continued to rub her arms against the chill, even though the temperature outside had to be hovering in the seventies.
"Three people died here," she informed them.
Sam snorted. Kiel knew why. The news of the murders had been splashed all over the papers and television for the past week.
"They died the same way two others had died." She lifted her face in their direction. "You have two more bodies at the morgue who fit the same MO."
Now that bit of information was something that hadn’t been released to the press. Nor was it common knowledge among the rest of the other investigators. Kiel felt a grin come over him as Sam’s eyebrows lifted a good half-inch.
J took another four steps into the room until she was facing the back wall of the living area. Turning slightly to her left, she indicated the back rooms with a lift of her chin. "Are the bedrooms there? I’m feeling something from that direction."
"Damn," Sam muttered under his breath. Kiel concurred. The bodies had been found in the very last bedroom. Again, undisclosed information.
Normally he wouldn’t have given much credence to her findings. Nearly two-thirds of all homicides took place in the victim’s bedroom. A bed makes a perfect stage for such horrors. But in this case all three victims had been slaughtered—and slaughtered was the only word Kiel could find to describe what he’d seen—all three had been found together in the back bedroom at around eight p.m. The coroner had put their deaths at around one in the afternoon. Which begged the question: What would three grown men be doing in a back bedroom at one o’clock in the middle of a weekday?
"Detective Stark, would you show me the way, please?"
He started. She seemed to feel his reluctance, and held out a hand that trembled slightly.
"Please?" she reiterated, waiting.
He gave his brother a little nod, and Sam tried to slip in. J immediately lifted her hand. A scowl crossed her features. "Don’t ever try to do that again," she admonished Sam darkly. "The difference I see between you and your brother is as obvious as dark and light to me." She looked straight at Kiel. "I have my reasons for wanting you to guide me back there."
Giving himself a moment to collect himself, Kiel walked over and held out an arm.
He thought he had prepared himself for her contact. He thought he could handle her touch this second time. How wrong he was.
He saw her hand descend upon the sleeve of his jacket. Saw it. Felt it. And his whole body seemed to melt from the warm summer breeze blowing over him. Through him. Sweetly scented like flowers in a meadow.
Closing his eyes, he could remember days from his childhood when he would climb the huge cottonwood in his back yard and sit up there for hours with a book. Reading, napping, and letting the sun and wind flow over him. It was probably his most favorite childhood memory.
It all came back to him now. The memory. The feel. The smell.
And then ... it was gone. J’s fingers tightened slightly over his arm. Without thinking, Kiel placed his other hand over hers to help steady her nerves. It was like holding a warm rose.
Slowly they walked down the narrow hallway, passing the second bedroom and bath, until they reached the back bedroom. It was pitch black, but Kiel could see his way as clearly as if it was daylight. J, of course, wouldn’t know any difference. They paused in the doorway as he instinctively knew she would hesitate there.
He kept his eyes on her face, on the expressions he saw flit across her skin and the surface of her eyes. She flinched twice, and her smooth skin appeared to grow paler.
Suddenly she took a step back, and her fear like a taste of acid jolted him. "Kiel. It’s still here," she whispered hoarsely.
"What’s still here?"
"That ... thing."
She turned, pulling and tugging on him. "Get me out of here," she begged. "Get me out of this place!"
He ventured a quick look back at the now sterilized bedroom before taking her back into the living room. But it wasn’t enough. J had to be removed to the hallway before she stopped shivering. This time he didn’t think twice before putting an arm around her shoulder.
Warm summer days. The hint of jasmine in the air. Bright blue skies and clouds shaped like animal crackers.
He had never wanted to bury his face against a woman as badly as he wanted to at that moment. Bury himself along her soft skin and hold her. Protect her.
Lifting her face, J sniffed loudly and pulled out a tissue from her pocket to blow her nose. "I’m sorry," she apologized in a low voice. "It got to me back there."
"What got to you?" Sam asked on the other side. They were leaning against the hallway wall, just outside the apartment.
"The way those people died." She looked over at Sam. "The room may have been cleaned and disinfected, but you’ll never be able to remove the taint that will forever haunt that place."
Giving her shoulder a little squeeze, Kiel gently asked, "How did they die, Miss Laurent?"
Her face went even paler. "They were stabbed to death. No ... more like ... punctured to death. Afterwards, their bodies were shredded. The one man ... the one you found inside the closet. He didn't die until that happened."
Both men felt shock go through their systems. Kiel believed he was long past feeling anything, but her words, and the feel of her shudder beneath his hand, gave him an overpowering sense of revulsion.
"The weapon, Miss Laurent. Can you give us a clue as to what was used as the weapon?" Good old Sam. He looked ready to spew, Kiel noted to himself, but he was determined to find out the specifics.
"A-a piece of, umm, a piece of metal. About this long." She held out her hands approximately eighteen inches apart. "Round, like a pipe, but without the hole inside. It was solid, like a gigantic piece of spaghetti. Oh, and it had curves on it. Grooves. If I felt one, I would recognize it."
Kiel wracked his brain for a weapon fitting her description. Of course, it was highly possible the killer had used an unorthodox weapon. Something other than a knife or tool.
"Can you tell us anything about the killer?"
"Yeah. You’re not going to like my answer, either." Taking a deep, ragged breath, J told them, "The man you’re looking for, the killer? He's dead ... just like you, Detective Stark."